Richard Pryor was a spearhead of righteous anger, a mad poet, and an inflammatory missile of social justice. He was a drug-addled demon, a rampaging tyrant, and a catastrophic force of destructive violence. He was a misunderstood prophet, a foulmouthed fount of extemporaneous brilliance, and a unique comic voice. He spoke the truth, and, most importantly, that dude was funny.
As Pauline Kael wrote, “Pryor shouldn’t be cast at all – he should be realized. He has desperate, mad characters coming out of his pores, and we want to see how far he can go with them.”
Pryor’s many polarizing selves – all brazenly honest, all true to life – earned him exultant praise and defamatory criticism in equal measure, both of which he came by honestly. To quote the man himself in the culmination of his lifelong existential crisis, as Encino police attempted to detain him for literally being on fire: “If I stop, I’ll die.”
Brothers David and Joe Henry have captured all sides of the enigmatic virtuoso in their stunning debut biography Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World that Made Him. This lyrical narrative refracts the social upheaval and volcanic undercurrents of the latter half of the twentieth century through the mysterious prism of pain and beauty that was Richard Pryor. Though it may not be possible to fully understand the machinations of his unwieldy genius, the spatiotemporal environment he inhabited may be better understood by studying him as its reluctant focal point.